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UPDATE: Province to spend $8 million on winter highway maintenance this year, says MPP

(File photo) Tractor trailers were among the vehicles that were part of a pileup on Hwy. 401 westbound between Glen Miller Road and Wallbridge-Loyalist Road in Quinte West Wednesday afternoon. Other multi-vehicle accidents have occurred eastbound near Brighton and westbound between Deseronto and Napanee. Photo by Justin Chin [1]

BELLEVILLE – There were a number of huge pileups on Highway 401 in the Belleville area last winter, prompting concerns that highways are not being properly maintained. File photo by Justin Chin, Loyalist Photojournalism

By Greg Murphy [2]

BELLEVILLE – The province is spending $8 million to get snow off of 400 series highways in southern Ontario faster than last year.

Liberal MPP for Northumberland – Quinte West Lou Rinaldi [3] said it’s well worth the cost to keep the 400 series highways safe this winter.

“This money is part of the transportation budget. We looked at it realistically; for the last three or four years in southern Ontario we were definitely spoiled and I think we let our guard down a little bit. Then last year we got a reality check,” Rinaldi said

“We got too comfortable with those weather conditions we’d experienced. But I think this is a way to tell us that we have to be ready for the worst possible conditions. I think the enhancements we’ve made for this coming winter will go a long way to address that.”

The $8 million will put 50 new pieces of snow removal equipment along highways in southern Ontario, said Rinaldi. Rinaldi said drivers can expect to see new industrial de-icers, not just snow plows. In addition to the new equipment, Rinaldi said there will be 20 new inspectors that will provide oversight on snow clearing operations during winter storms. Belleville, which is part of the Ministry of Transportation’s Kingston West region of the 401, will see three of these new pieces of equipment.

Rinaldi wasn’t MPP for the riding last year. But he said he still worked for the party relaying messages from constituency offices to government higher-ups. He said he saw a big concern expressed by many constituents about driving conditions along 400 series highways.

“These local issues were my responsibility to pass on to the government of the day. I won’t take all the credit for it, I mean all the mayors, police, they all experienced issues. My responsibility was to pass that up the ladder,” Rinaldi said.

He added that drivers shouldn’t rely solely on the work of snow removal teams this winter but should always take extra care while driving in hazardous conditions.

“I think we have to be cognizant driving in the winter, especially if driving in bad weather. We just cannot sit back and pretend the snow plows will do all the work. We must always be vigilant in the way we drive,” he said.

There were five major pileups on 400 series highways in Ontario between Jan. 29 and March 12 last year. The provincial government was heavily criticized for cutting snow-removal budgets. Some areas saw salt yards completely eliminated. In Northumberland County, two of their three salt yards were closed [4], forcing Carillion [5] contractors to work from one salting yard in Grafton.

Rinaldi said the province will try to keep a better eye on things this winter.

“I’m delighted we’ve taken action and we’ll keep a close eye on how this winter evolves and we’ll act accordingly,” said Rinaldi.